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Flipping the Bard: The freshest Shakespeare movie adaptations

Margot Robbie's new Shakespeare TV series will explore the stories from fresh angles. Before it airs, here are ten of the best Shakespeare adaptations.

Flipping the Bard: The freshest Shakespeare movie adaptations

As any Shakespeare fan will tell you, the Bard’s works are extraordinarily versatile and lend themselves to a variety of adaptations and retellings. Margot Robbie is producing a new television series offering female-focused reimaginings of Shakespeare.

Robbie (and her production company LuckyChap) is collaborating with the Australian Broadcasting Company on the project, developing modern versions of Shakespeare stories told from a female perspective and delivered by an all-female creative team.

The untitled series will feature ten episodes providing commentary on modern society and celebrating Australia’s cultural diversity. Robbie – a recent Oscar-nominee for I, Tonya – used the opportunity to platform undiscovered and underrated female talent.

I’m taking a lot of meetings with the lesser-known talent at the moment, the indie filmmakers, first- and second-time filmmakers, mainly women. I’m in a lovely position where I can actually help get things greenlit so I want to work with people who we haven’t seen yet.

The project offers a tantalizing prospect to any Shakespeare fan who loves to explore the stories from fresh angles – something which has been done terrifically well on film on numerous occasions. Here are ten of the best on-screen adaptations of Shakespeare.

Romeo + Juliet (1996)

Baz Luhrmann refitted one of Shakespeare’s most well-known tragedies for the MTV age, bolstering the movie with a furious pace, a banging soundtrack, and a lucid set of visuals. With a strong cast including peak-floppy-haired Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street), Claire Danes (The Hours), John Leguizamo (Spawn), and Paul Rudd (Ant-Man) showing off their stellar acting range, the movie remains a delicious 90s treat.

Looking for Richard (1996)

Al Pacino’s directorial debut isn’t a direct adaptation of Richard III but rather a documentary exploring the continual relevance of the story to contemporary culture.

Pacino takes the script to the streets to celebrate the power of language with random New Yorkers and analyzes the screenplay as he adapts it with an all-star cast including Winona Ryder (Stranger Things), Kevin Spacey (House of Cards), and Alec Baldwin (The Departed), making the movie as insightful as it is entertaining.

Much Ado About Nothing (1993)

Kenneth Branagh (Murder on the Orient Express) is a legit Shakespearean genius, as exemplified by his adaptation of one of the Bard’s best comedies. Starring Kate Beckinsale (Underworld), Emma Thompson (Love Actually), Denzel Washington (The Book of Eli), and yes, even 90s dudebro Keanu Reeves (The Matrix), the movie is full of boundless energy & banter, and goodness, is it visually stunning. You look good, Tuscany.

Hamlet (1996)

Branagh’s unabridged adaptation of Hamlet also happens to be one of the best (and arguably, most influential) Shakespeare adaptations committed to film. The director is startling in the titular role with a phenomenal supporting cast including Kate Winslet (Wonder Wheel), Billy Crystal (Forget Paris), Julie Christie (Away from Her), and big-voice Brian Blessed (Flash Gordon) hitting all the beats of their characters with perfect finesse.

Richard III (1995)

Transposed to 1930s Britain and staged in a haunting, alternative fascist timeline, Richard Loncraine’s taut and terrifying adaptation is one of the best you’ll ever see. With Ian McKellen (The Fellowship of the Ring) giving one of the best performances of his career alongside Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man) and Annette Bening (who just about manage to keep up with him), Richard III is nothing short of extraordinary.

The Tempest (2010)

Starring Helen Mirren (The Queen), Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything), Alan Cumming (The Anniversary Party), and Ben Whishaw (The Lobster), Julie Taymor’s treatment of one of Shakespeare’s strangest stories gender-waps Prospero to become Prospera and it totally works.

Macbeth (2015)

Visually sumptuous and packing a slew of emotional performances from Michael Fassbender (Prometheus) & Marion Cotillard (Inception), Justin Kurzel’s critically-acclaimed adaptation combines raw storytelling with lavish cinematography, bringing the story to life.

Much Ado About Nothing (2012)

Joss Whedon’s modern-day, musical retelling stars some of his regulars such as Nathan Fillion (Firefly), Amy Acker (The Cabin in the Woods), and Alexis Denisof (The Avengers), and even includes original compositions of two songs Shakespeare wrote into his original play.

O (2001)

If the irrepressible allure of the babely Josh Hartnett (Lucky Number Slevin) & Mekhi Phifer (Dawn of the Dead) aren’t quite convincing enough for you, maybe the solid performances from Julia Stiles (Silver Linings Playbook) & Martin Sheen (Apocalypse Now) will be. Tim Blake Nelson (Leaves of Grass) does an impressive job of transposing Othello to a U.S. high school and making it a teen movie with a lot of bite.

Macbeth (2010)

Directed by Rupert Goold (The Hollow Crown) from his hit stage adaptation, this BBC / PBS production evokes the atmosphere of Stalin’s Soviet Union and is about as unnerving as they come. It stars Patrick Stewart (Logan) in the titular role so you know you’re in for a quality experience.

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Amy Roberts is a freelance writer who occasionally moonlights as a hapless punk musician. She’s written about pop culture for websites like Bustle, i-D, and The Mary Sue, and is the co-creator of Clarissa Explains F*ck All. She likes watching horror movies with her cat and eating too much sugar.

amy@filmdaily.co